With support from Pact and USAID, nurses save lives in Ukraine through cancer screening

January 31, 2024
Oksana Masliy
Oksana Masliy is a nurse in Ukraine's Vinnytsia region. With support from Pact and USAID, she and other nurses are learning to deliver life-saving cancer screenings. Credit: Inna Martonikova

In rural areas, accessing medical care can be especially difficult. This is the case in Ukraine’s Vinnitsya region, where nurses play a critical role. 

One such nurse is Oksana Masliy, with the Teplyk Primary Health Care Center. Masliy loves her job and approaches her patients with genuine attention and care. She enjoys any opportunity to expand her nursing skills and knowledge to the benefit of her patients. 

Her latest professional achievement involved participating in a training organized by the Early Diagnosis of Cervical Cancer in Women in Rural Areas project. This locally led initiative, supported by the USAID-funded, Pact-led Public Health System Recovery and Resilience Activity (PHS R&R), provided training for nurses like Masliy to learn how to perform oncological screening and Pap test procedures – proven interventions for detecting cervical cancer early in women. 

Cervical cancer, a preventable and curable disease, is the fourth most frequent cancer among women in Ukraine, and the second most frequent cancer among women between 15 and 44. Since the beginning of the PHS R&R-supported initiative in October, 90 trained family doctors and nurses have screened more than 4,000 women for cervical cancer. The initiative also includes a community-wide communication campaign to encourage women to seek screening services by emphasizing the importance of early cervical cancer detection and treatment to save women’s lives. 

"I learned a lot about the collection, storage and transportation of screening samples,” Masliy says. “Now I actively apply this knowledge in my practice.

"Our efforts will yield excellent results and may even save lives. Many women neglect visiting a gynecologist and may not even be aware of potential health issues. In the initial weeks of our screenings, we've observed a growing interest among patients. From starting with five to six examinations a day, we now see up to 20 women for oncological screening."

Nurses in Ukraine recieve training on how to conduct cervical cancer screenings. Credit: Inna Martonikova

In Vinnytsia region, approximately 3,000 women have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, resulting in 43 deaths in 2022 alone. In the past year, 50% of cervical cancer patients arrived at the local Podilskyi Regional Oncology Center at advanced (3rd or 4th) stages of disease. One third of them were between 25 and 35 years old. This underscores the critical need for proactive health measures, especially during times of constant stress and uncertainty, such as the current war that Russia launched against Ukraine.

One way that the Teplyk Primary Health Care Center has ensured it reaches patients is by supporting accessibility for all community members. Sobolivka village, situated 20 kilometers from Teplyk, relies on a once-a-week city bus for transportation of patients to the hospital or health care center. Sobolivka also boasts a family medicine outpatient clinic staffed by a family doctor and two nurses, including Natalia Sliepko, who has dedicated 29 years to nursing.

Sliepko recently participated in a hands-on, PHS R&R-supported training to expand her patient care responsibilities to include cervical cancer screening. 

"We never thought nurses would be involved in cancer screening," Sliepko says. Now cervical cancer screening is part of her daily work.

Sliepko reaches out to residents, encouraging them to undergo regular medical checks. She emphasizes the need to act preventatively rather than waiting until symptoms manifest, which can lead to irreversible consequences. 

"Thanks to the training, we learned to collect samples on mannequins, and now it's a well-mastered skill. Our patients trust us, and we offer Pap tests alongside their family doctor appointments," Sliepko says.

"I urge all women to prioritize their health. A few years ago, a gynecologist diagnosed me with a pre-cancerous condition, and having timely surgery and treatment saved my life.”